The rising generation of American Muslim leaders are taking a more assertive stance in activism and advocacy on civil rights issues, according to a report by the Middle Eastern news service Al Jazeera (July 24).
The recent “iftar” or annual consultation between U.S. Muslim leaders and President Obama met with a wave of criticism from younger Muslims that participants in these meetings are failing to defend the rights of Muslims. Sahar Aziz writes that “Through a sign-on petition and social media campaigns calling for a boycott of the iftar, young Muslim men and women brought to light the growing discontent with older, primarily male, and immigrant ‘official’ leadership by a younger, more gender diverse generation of Muslims.” These efforts have generated a debate in the Muslim community about the dissatisfaction with civil rights work.
But Aziz adds that even the current state Muslim rights advocacy and activism is “leagues ahead of its dismal state just after 9/11 [when]…few Muslims…had the skills or training to engage with media, write persuasive op-eds, file civil rights lawsuits, and negotiate public policy at the state and federal level. As a result, most Muslim American leaders today are self-taught advocates [usually engineers or doctors] whose training is on the job in a high-stakes environment.”
The emerging leaders argue that the current Muslim leadership’s inexperience has been exploited by prosecutors and policy makers who have treated it as a fifth column in need of surveillance and other infringements on civil rights. They also say that Muslim representatives should be selected based on their professional expertise rather than their popularity or religious piety.